Olympic Unions Halt Flights In Athens

October 30, 2008

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Workers at Olympic Airlines walked off the job on Thursday, grounding nearly a hundred flights and disrupting other air traffic in a runway protest against Greece's plan to sell the ailing state carrier.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' government has given investors until the end of this week to express interest in Olympic, which has been losing nearly EUR2 million euros a day but holds attractive airport slots in Europe.

Chanting "never, never, never", thousands of Olympic workers occupied one of Athens airport's two runways. Traffic controllers said they were able to divert flights to the second runway and delays were being kept to a minimum.

"We will continue our struggle to overturn the government's policy. There are still ways out," Manolis Patestos, the head of Olympic Airlines' unions said.

The company suspended 48 return flights on domestic and international routes on Thursday due to the 24 hour strike. Flights between Athens and Milan, Rome, Paris, Frankfurt, Brussels and London were among those affected.

The latest strike came on another day of travel disruption in Greece as other transport unions protested against the economic policies of the fragile conservative government, which holds just 152 seats in the 300 member national parliament.

The Athens Metro was shut for a one day strike over working conditions and national rail services were suspended for three hours in a protest over pensions and a lack of safety measures, staff and infrastructure.

Olympic workers have protested at least one day each week this month, causing the cancellation of hundreds of flights since the government launched the privatization of the flag carrier in September.

Qatar Airways is among those expressing an interest in acquiring Olympic, Karamanlis said during a weekend visit to the Gulf state. He did not mention any other potential bidders.

Unions oppose the sale despite assurances of compensation and reemployment by the government. They say the government's liberal reforms are worsening living conditions in Greece, where one in five people lives below the poverty line, according to official figures.